Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Catholic Catechism 3: Jesus' Birth, Life, Death

Continuing my take-away from our Monday reading group going through the Roman Catholic Catechism to compare it with Wesleyan theology:

Week 1: Introduction and Revelation
Week 2: God the Father

This week's reading of the catechism was over Part 1, Section 2, chapter 2, articles 1-4.  This is over most of the second part of the Apostle's Creed, through Jesus' death.
Most of this section is common Christianity.  There's also some pretty good biblical scholarship that felt very familiar to me.  My real transition toward scholarship took place in the late 80s and early 90s.  I guess the Catechism was written in the 80s, so the approach to Christ that focused on titles was popular.  Think James Dunn's Christology in the Making.

This chapter sets out the doctrine of Christ held by all orthodox Christians, claims that steer away from the classic heresies.  Jesus was fully and truly human, so no Docetism.  Jesus was not two persons joined together, so no Nestorianism.  But Jesus had both a human and a divine nature, so no Monophytism.  He had a genuine human will despite having a divine will as well, so no Monothelitism. Jesus wasn't a physical body with a divine soul, so no Apollinarianism.

Most of the theories of atonement are here.  There is Jesus' death as a sacrifice and satisfaction.  There is Jesus' death as a substitution.  There is Jesus' life as a moral example.  The Catechism even interprets Jesus' fulfillment of the Law as him keeping the Law perfectly, which isn't what Matthew 5 means in my opinion.  Matthew 5:17 is interpreted by the examples in the rest of the chapter.  Fulfilling the law is playing it out in the light of the love command, being complete like our heavenly Fathers is complete (5:48).  Going the whole way, not just half way.

There are of course some elements that are weird to Protestants.  Once you understand it, we don't have a problem with calling Mary the "Mother of God."  It simply means that Jesus was always God, even in the womb (so no adoptionism). But the idea of the perpetual virginity of Mary will be weird to most Protestants--the idea that even throughout the birth process her physical virginity remained intact.  Protestants feel free to interpret the New Testament in its most natural sense, namely, that Mary went on to have more children that were Jesus' biological brothers and sisters.

Our group suspected that the RCatholic aversion to Mary having sex was similar to the way some Protestants feel about Jesus having a wife, that having sex would somehow make Jesus less pure or perfect.  It's a "sex is dirty" subconscious thing. But since having sex isn't dirty in the slightest, there's no need for Mary to remain a virgin forever, even if she were without sin, which Protestants generally don't believe either. Also, we don't say Hail Marys, although we occasionally like them in football.

The tradition that Peter was specifically the rock of the church is also not crucial for Protestants. We are free to follow the historical evidence wherever it lies, which is that the church at Rome was likely there decades before Paul, let alone Peter ever got there. Having said that, I am sympathetic to the suggestion of Brown and Meier that Roman Christianity may have been more "Petrine" in flavor than "Pauline." They are Roman Catholic New Testament scholars. If Hebrews was written to Rome, it along with Romans supports this theory.

But despite these minor exceptions, the overwhelming majority of these 70 pages or so was pretty much the same as what Wesleyans and Protestants believe. We're even celebrating Advent more and more, and I preached an Epiphany sermon once at a Wesleyan Church on the text of the wise men, so we can check that one off the list...

1 comment:

Nathaniel said...

I call Bulverism on the "sex is dirty" explanation.